Finding paper to wrap gifts could be problematic out there in the jungle, but this very special surprise couldn’t be wrapped anyway.
The story began in November of that year when an Indian man, who lived in the area where I, as a single missionary was working, came for medical help. It right away became apparent; he needed more help than we as rural medics could give him. I say, we as rural medics, because I was working with two young Indian guys from another ethnic group helping them tend to all things medical for several hundred plus folks, scattered among three villages, besides a steady stream of visitors from far away places. We had been trained some months before at the hospital out in town. My fellow medics were now employees of the country’s health department and I was a volunteer helping to familiarize them with record keeping, making out orders for medical supplies, and a host of other paper work. The training had equipped them well for the hands on stuff, but they appreciated the help with the paper work, at which they became proficient as well. These by the way are the same guys of the “That Awful Taste’ post. They were great to work with and disciple.
We had a two way radio for communication with other places where missionaries worked, so I knew my father was making one last river run to pick up supplies and some fuel out in town before the dry season really got going and emptied the big river of any more water. So it was decided, for several reasons, that I should motor down river in our dugout with the 18hp Johnson with our patient and catch a ride to town with the supply boats. It was roughly a 6hr hour trip down to the supply boats and a two day trip from there to the port described in the last post. Our patient spoke no Spanish and the hospital staff didn’t speak his language, so the only option was to accompany him all the way helping him communicate, especially with the doctors at the hospital. The fact that I could help with the grunt work of loading and unloading supplies and fuel was an added benefit. The plan was simple and straightforward. He would see the doctor, get the treatment he needed, and we’d be on our way back up river in a couple of short weeks.
Though the place we medics were working was only 6hrs by motorized dugout downriver to where my parents and siblings lived, I didn’t get to visit as often as I would have liked. Gasoline for the outboard was always in short supply and one always had to have enough on had for emergencies. So non essential trips were few and far between.
Long before our patient had come on the scene, I had been planning for several months already to go home for Christmas, a real treat. Besides being with family I’d get to enjoy some of my mother’s really, really good jungle cooking. We medics didn’t have culinary disasters like ‘That Awful Taste’ episode often, but still, mom’s cooking was the absolute best.
The trip out to town in its various stages was uneventful, but being that it was already passed the middle of November our river guide had to follow the low water route down through its many twists and turns.
I right away got my patient over to the hospital where he was admitted and they started doing tests. Things being the way they are, as in the best laid plans sometimes have a mind of their own; the test results were not coming back from the capital city. Day after day the hospital keep reassuring me that the results would be in for sure that week-end or at latest the first of the next week. Meanwhile the days keep slipping by and the river kept dropping. It was urgent the now heavily loaded boats get going. If the water got too low the river guide would have the near to impossible task of finding a channel up through the hundreds of river miles clogged with sand bars, rocks and snags. As the crow flies the distance back to where my parents lived was maybe a little less than two hundred miles. The river unfortunately, followed a much less straight course. On top of that, the low or shallow water channel meandered all over the surface of the already meandering river, which added an awful lot of miles to steer the boats safely through.
Finally, a couple of weeks before Christmas, the crew had to leave for upriver. The test results were still not in for my patient, so we had to stay put. I was resolved to spending Christmas in town. My Indian patient by now was discouraged to say the least because he wasn’t feeling any better and he was becoming desperately homesick. Everything he had been experiencing there at the hospital in town was totally unfamiliar to him. He was pleading that I take him home. There was the slight possibility we could catch a ride up river with another smaller boat but without his test results we weren’t going anywhere. And so we waited and waited some more. Finally a couple of days before Christmas the results came back. They told an unexpected and sadly unwelcome story. The doctors could do nothing to help him and gave him only a few months to live; their only advice was to get him back to his people as soon as possible.
We were now free to travel, but had no way of doing so. Well, there was a way, but to make it happen was beyond my reach. A year and a half or so before this, MAF had come to the country of these posts bringing missionary aviation back to the jungle. I say bringing back, because 15 or so years earlier my father had flown a Stinson over the same jungle. The plane’s skin was a type of fabric which was ruined by the fierce tropical sun. Though its useful life was short the plane had been a great help in many ways including finding the wreckage of the DC3 described in an earlier post.
At this juncture of the missionary work, though the MAF plane was available, most jungle travel still was done by boat of some kind or another. There were very few landing strips and plane travel was considerably more costly than by dugout. That was unless you could get just the right combination so that all legs of the flight were utilized which brought the cost per person way down. Now if there was an emergency and it was urgent someone get to a doctor right away, the flight would be made and how to pay for it would be discussed later. For my patient’s sake it was urgent we got back to his village as soon as possible, but there was no emergency as such in play. All that to explain why I hadn’t seriously considered seeing about a flight back up river. I didn’t have the funds to cover the cost of the flight.
The missionaries who worked at the main office where I was staying had been praying, of course, for the patient and our predicament. The news of the doctor’s recommendation was shared among the staff, and two veteran missionaries, single ladies, asked me if I’d thought about flying back up river. I told them of the situation and they immediately said we think you should go and we want to help. So it came about that on December 24th my patient and I found ourselves flying to an airstrip from which he could be motored to his village and I could make it home for Christmas. It seemed to good to be true, and yet it was true because two missionary ladies had it on their hearts to bless a sick Indian man and his medic.
I refer to the sense of community we as missionary kids, missionaries and our Indian friends and neighbors felt as we lived life together, in several stories on this blog. The actual events and realities behind the memories of what is written are still vividly etched in my mind.
There is no place on earth like the jungle and the people who live there. We, as missionary kids, learned from the example of our parents to look at life as an opportunity and privilege to serve . I end with the recommendation that you read the post-titled ‘December’. It condenses into a very short story what Christmas meant for our family during one of the ‘seasons of life’ the decades of living in that jungle among its people brought us.